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Revisiting Betty Friedan’s Jewish legacy through the first biography of her in decades

(JTA) — When Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963, she set fire to a simmering discontent among millions of American women, blowing up the myth that feminine fulfillment began and ended with a husband, children and a home. But 17 years after her death, many retrospectives have summed up Friedan as the leader of a women’s movement that outgrew her.

A new biography from Rachel Shteir, “Betty Friedan: Magnificent Disrupter,” published Sept. 12 as part of Yale University’s ongoing Jewish Lives series, aims to offer a more comprehensive portrait of the complex, often controversial Jewish feminist. The first book on Friedan’s life since the 1990s shows the evolution of her Jewish identity, starting as a source of alienation that molded her rage against injustice. That identity, as Shteir explains, at first takes a backseat to her battle for women’s rights but eventually finds a stage at the center of Friedan’s public life.

“The Feminine Mystique” made Friedan a celebrity and catapulted her into the early leadership of second-wave feminism, fighting on the frontlines of workplace equality, women’s education and access to birth control and abortion. Friedan believed that suburban, middle-class housewives would make women’s rights acceptable to the American mainstream and become the key to vast social change. At the same time, her vision of the future of feminism left many people out: She became notorious for neglecting Black and working-class women in her manifesto and for excluding lesbians from the movement.

However, according to Shteir, the perception that Friedan’s movement left her behind overlooks the lasting influence of her ideas. While researching the activist, Shteir observed that many recent feminist writers have drawn from or reacted to Friedan, often without crediting her directly.

“She generated so many of the conversations that we take for granted,” Shteir told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Friedan built her ideals on the foundation of her personal life and experiences. She was born Bettye Goldstein to Jewish immigrants in Peoria, Illinois, in 1921. Her Russian father Harry Goldstein worked as a jeweler, and her Hungarian mother Miriam Horowitz Goldstein worked as a journalist until Bettye was born. Miriam gave up her work to be a wife and a mother, an ordinary sacrifice for the time that she never recovered from, according to her daughter.

“Nothing my father did, nothing he bought her, nothing we did ever seemed to satisfy her,” Friedan recalled in the 1976 book “It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement.” Friedan said that her mother pined to fill the emptiness in her life by joining social circles and buying material luxuries — things not guaranteed for a Jewish family in the Depression-era Midwest.

Friedan’s early experiences of antisemitism became another lens that defined her fury against injustice, said Joyce Antler, a scholar of Jewish feminism and former professor at Brandeis University.

“She said that antisemitism was the ‘dominant menace’ of her childhood,” Antler told the JTA. “Not being accepted socially, not being accepted in the high school sorority — all this gave her a sense of being an outsider. It was through her Jewishness that she had the vision, the foresight to understand women’s exclusion.”

As a brilliant student, Friedan studied psychology at Smith College and began postgraduate work at the University of California Berkeley, where she dropped the “e” from her first name. She abandoned her fellowship to preserve a relationship with the man she was dating, which ended anyway. From there she moved to New York and became a labor journalist, writing on union issues, Jim Crow laws and antisemitism.

In 1947 she married Carl Friedan, a would-be theater producer who held intermittent work. They had three children and moved to the Rockland County suburbs of New York. Although Friedan continued freelance writing for women’s magazines to support the family, she saw herself as a housewife.

It was at a Smith College reunion in 1957, talking with her classmates 15 years after they graduated, that Friedan found the spark of “The Feminine Mystique.” She interviewed women who had succeeded by the standards they knew — suburban homes, husbands, children and modern cleaning appliances — but still felt there was a hole in their lives. After building an entire identity around their families, some said they felt as if they “didn’t exist.” 

“The Feminine Mystique,” inspired by these educated women and Friedan’s own experiences, instantly hit a nerve. At the time, women could not open bank accounts or credit cards in their own names, were shunned out of jobs and ridiculed for raising the notion of sex discrimination. The book was translated into over a dozen languages and sold more than three million copies, giving voice to an epidemic of unhappiness that Friedan called “the problem that has no name.”

“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women,” read her opening words. “It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone.”

Rachel Shteir is the head of the Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism program at the Theatre School at DePaul University. (Yale Jewish Lives/Doug McGoldrick)

In 1966, Friedan joined Pauli Murray and Aileen Hernandez to found the National Organization for Women (NOW). She became the first president of the group, which remains one of the leading feminist organizations in the United States. Its goals included the enforcement of anti-discrimination law, subsidized child care for working mothers, legalized abortion and public accommodations protections. She also helped found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) in 1969, since renamed Reproductive Freedom for All, and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.

Her efforts changed hiring practices, gender pay inequality and credit-granting rules. But the ground shifted beneath her as younger, more diverse voices gained power. Friedan was fiery-tempered and fiercely resistant to those who disagreed with her, whether outside or inside her movement. She once described writer Gloria Steinem and Democratic Representative Bella Abzug (both Jewish) as “female chauvinist boors.” She dismissed the interests of younger bra-burning feminists — who centered sexual harassment and rape over marriage and child care — and she infamously called lesbian women the “lavender menace.”

Friedan believed the future of women’s rights depended on mainstream respectability, said Shteir. In embracing that model herself, she paid a high toll. She did not leave her physically abusive marriage for 22 years, despite black eyes that she covered with make-up for TV appearances. 

She also did not talk publicly about her Jewishness until the 1970s.

Friedan stepped down from the presidency of NOW in 1970. But in her last speech as president, she announced the Women’s Strike for Equality, a nationwide action that drew tens of thousands of women to rallies in 40 American cities. On Fifth Avenue in New York City, 50,000 women marched for equal opportunity, free abortion and universal childcare. 

Many of these women had little in common with the demographic she had imagined. Alongside the housewives marched radical feminists, lesbians, Black Power advocates, union women and pacifists. Standing before them in Bryant Park, Friedan addressed the crowd with a revised Jewish prayer, traditionally recited by Orthodox men every morning. 

“Down the generations in history, my ancestor prayed, ‘I thank Thee, Lord, I was not created a woman,’” she said. “From this day forward women all over the world will be able to say, ‘I thank Thee, Lord, I was created a woman.’”

The moment was a breakthrough for Friedan, according to Antler. On that day, she finally tore through the “feminine mystique” to affirm her full identity in public — as both a feminist and a Jew. It was after this speech that Friedan revisited the role of Judaism in her work, turning her energies to fight antisemitism in the women’s movement and sexism in Jewish institutions. She also became more involved in Jewish life during the 1970s and 80s, said Shteir, giving many talks to Jewish groups and going to synagogue regularly until the end of life.

It turned out, as Friedan saw in the throng of people she herself had pulled to the streets during the Women’s Strike for Equality, that the future of feminism was broader than she knew. And many of the causes women marched for in 1970, from free child care to legalized abortions, remain out of reach for millions of Americans in 2023.

“When you read ‘The Feminine Mystique,’ it’s a little bit dismaying, because it feels like the women’s movement has stalled in certain ways,” said Shteir. “Basic things that Betty was really agitating for, we don’t have.” 

The post Revisiting Betty Friedan’s Jewish legacy through the first biography of her in decades appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities

An American flag waves outside the US Department of Justice Building in Washington, US, Dec. 2, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

US federal authorities have charged, and a grand jury has indicted, a foreign national with planning a mass casualty attack against Jews and other minorities in New York on New Year’s Eve.

The United States Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York reported that a grand jury indicted Georgian national Michail Chkhikvishvili with soliciting hate crimes and acts of mass violence.

Chkhikvishvili is reportedly the leader of a group called the “Maniac Murder Cult,” a white supremacist, neo-Nazi group.

Specifically, he was recruiting people to carry out arson and bombing attacks — as well as attacks aimed at Jewish and other minority children, according to US officials.

The US Attorney’s Office explained that the “planned New Year’s Eve attack involved Santa Claus handing out poisoned candy to racial minorities as well as distributing poisoned candy to Jewish children in Brooklyn.”

There were more than 450,000 Jews who lived in Brooklyn as of May 2024. Many neighborhoods are known to be predominantly Hasidic.

Authorities found out about the plot when Chkhikvishvili solicited an undercover law enforcement official to be involved in the attack.

He “sought to recruit others to commit violent attacks and killings in furtherance of his Neo-Nazi ideologies,” US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to find and prosecute those who threaten the safety and freedoms of all members of our community, including members of minority communities, no matter where in the world these criminals might be hiding.”

FBI New York Acting Assistant Director Christie Curtis lauded law enforcement for stopping the attack before it could ever take place.

“The swift disruption of this individual, accused of allegedly plotting violent attacks in New York, sends a clear message: we will use every resource in our power to ensure the safety of the American people,” she said. “The men and women who work on this task force day in and day out exemplify true service to our community, demonstrating unwavering commitment in thwarting those who seek to harm our citizens and our way of life.”

The plot comes amid a wave of antisemitic attacks that ramped up in America and around the world after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, amid the ensuing war in Gaza.

Earlier this month, an observant Jew was sucker punched and beaten in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC. The alleged attacker subsequently expressed his motive, saying “They’re [the Jews] the cause of all our wars,” and “We know who you are! We know the lies that you’ve told, that you have stolen the place of the true children of Israel.”

He was charged with assault and a hate crime.

In December, the FBI said there had been a 60 percent spike in antisemitic hate crime investigations since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. Then, in April, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the probes into antisemitic crimes tripled in the months following Oct. 7.

“Between Oct. 7 and Jan. 30 of this year, we opened over three times more anti-Jewish hate crime investigations than in the four months before Oct. 7,” he explained.

Last year, the FBI found that 63 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the US were directed against Jews.

The post Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities first appeared on

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RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) speaks during a House Education and The Workforce Committee hearing titled ‘Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, Dec. 5, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

US lawmakers are preparing to release later this year a trove of new “bombshell” information revealing the extent to which antisemitism has been allowed to flourish on university campuses across the country, according to a high-ranking Republican.

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) spoke with political pundit and podcast host Megyn Kelly about the efforts of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to investigate surging antisemitism, including anti-Jewish bias, on college campuses. While reminiscing over last December’s congressional hearing with the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — in which each campus leader proclaimed that calls for a genocide of Jews may not violate school rules depending on “the context” — Stefanik revealed that the committee has obtained new documents shedding light on anti-Jewish hate at elite universities.

“This is pervasive in higher-ed. We have worked on this investigation, and if you think the hearing was bad, Megyn, we’re going to have to talk about all the documents that have been turned over because of our subpoena,” Stefanik said. “We’ll put out a report later this year. That’s even more bombshell material in there. It’s a disgrace what’s happening at these universities.”

Antisemitism has exploded at universities since the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, amid the ensuing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Over the past several months, the committee has rigorously investigated antisemitism at America’s most prestigious universities. The panel recently unearthed and exposed text message exchanges between Columbia University deans which revealed the campus leaders mocking Jewish students as “privileged.” The lawmakers also alleged, based on their investigation, that Harvard University has engaged in a “pattern of inaction” in response to campus antisemitism.

Stefanik spoke to Kelly at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Republicans are gathering this week to nominate their 2024 presidential candidate. The issue of campus antisemitism has been a key issue highlighted at the RNC.

On Wednesday night, Shabbos Kestenbaum, a recent Harvard graduate suing his alma mater over its alleged failure to protect Jewish students, took the RNC main stage and delivered an impassioned speech on campus antisemitism. Kestenbaum said that the surge of unchecked antisemitism on Harvard’s campus in the months following Oct. 7 left him disillusioned with progressives, prompting his move to the political right. 

“After Oct. 7, the world finally saw what I and so many Jewish students across this country experienced almost every day,” he told the RNC crowd. 

“My problem with Harvard is not its liberalism, but its illiberalism. Too often, students at Harvard are taught not how to think, but what to think. I found myself immersed in a culture that is anti-Western, that is anti American, and that is antisemitic,” Kestenbaum said. 

Kestenbaum implored the crowd to support the presidential campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump. 

“Sadly the far-left wing tide of antisemitism is rising,” Kestenbaum said. “But tonight, tonight we fight back. I am proud to support President Trump’s policies to expel foreign students who violate our laws, harass our Jewish classmates, and desecrate our freedoms … let’s elect a president who recognizes that although Harvard and the Ivy Leagues have long abandoned the United States of America, the Jewish people never will.”

Anti-Israel protests have ravaged college campuses across the United States in the months following Oct. 7. Students at prominent universities such as Harvard, Columbia, and MIT have participated in demonstrations chanting slogans such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!” Progressive student organizations have also openly banned “Zionists,” forcing Jewish students to choose between supporting Israel and maintaining their social network. Campus demonstrators have also openly cheered Hamas and in some cases threatened or committed violence against Jewish students.

Jewish donors and alumni have condemned university administrators over their unwillingness to shut down demonstrations. As a result, many of them have pulled funding and vowed not to allow their children to enroll at their alma maters.

Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots NFL team, has ceased donating to Columbia University, citing “virulent hate” against Jews on campus.  Ross Stevens, founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, pulled a $100 million donation from the University of Pennsylvania. The MIT Jewish Alumni Alliance urged Jewish graduates and allies to protest campus antisemitism by lowering their annual donation amount to $1.

The post RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe first appeared on

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Pro-Israel Group Calls on US Justice Department to Apply ‘KKK Laws’ to Pro-Hamas Demonstrations

Pro-Hamas demonstrators at Columbia University in New York City, US, April 29, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

StandWithUs (SWU), a Jewish civil rights group based in California, is imploring the US Justice Department to crack down on masked protests at Columbia University by enforcing legal statues which are widely referred to as the “KKK Laws,” citing a hostile environment at the school in which pro-Hamas demonstrators who have harassed and assaulted Jewish students continuously evade justice by concealing their identities.

Dating back to the administration of former US President Ulysses S. Grant, the so-called “KKK Laws” empower the federal government to prosecute those who engage in activities which violate the civil rights of protected groups, as the Ku Klux Klan did across the US South during Reconstruction to prevent African Americans from voting and living as free citizens. StandWithUs alleges that five anti-Zionist groups — most notably Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — currently operating on Columbia University’s campus have perpetrated similar abuses in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which guarantees all students, regardless of race or ethnic background, has the right to a safe learning environment.

The most obvious parallel between their conduct and the KKK’s, StandWithUs noted, is an inveterate shrouding of their members’ faces with masks and keffiyehs, the traditional headscarf worn by Palestinians that has become known as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel. Images and footage of the practice have been widely circulated online, and it has rendered identifying the protesters — many of whom have chanted antisemitic slogans, vandalized school property, and threatened to harm Jewish students and faculty during a weeks-long demonstration between April and May — virtually impossible.

Additionally, the groups — which also include Within Our Lifetime (WOL), Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), Columbia University Apartheid, Columbia School of Social Work 4 Palestine (CSSW4P), and Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FJP) — have proclaimed their intention to purge Columbia’s campus of Zionists, a category which includes an overwhelming majority of Jews in the US and around the world. Their rhetoric, StandWithUs added, is unlike any uttered in the US since demonstrations against school integration in the 1950s.

“We hope the Department of Justice (DOJ) will take this opportunity to restore justice on Columbia University’s campuses and hold bad actors responsible for violating federal laws,” Yael Lerman, director of the SWU Saidoff Legal Department, said on Wednesday. “Columbia President Shafik’s concession that Columbia is a hostile environment for Jewish students in violation of Title VI reflects a critical need for the current administration to take decisive action at Columbia.”

Lerman added, “We urge the DOJ to investigate the school’s failure to prevent groups and individuals on its campus from joining forces and depriving Jewish students of their civil rights, a failure that runs afoul of the KKK laws.”

SWU’s letter — sent to US Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department on Wednesday — comes amid an ongoing lawsuit the organization’s Legal Center for Justice (SCLJ) filed against Columbia University in February over its alleged failure to prevent and respond to an explosion of anti-Jewish hate incidents which have occurred on the campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, an event the protesters cheered and defended as an act of decolonization inspired by the ideas of far-left political philosophers such as Frantz Fanon.

SWU amended its complaint against Columbia in June, adding 45 students as plaintiffs and over “230 pages of allegations.” Meanwhile, the accusations which surfaced following the group’s first filing have already stained Columbia’s reputation.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews,” “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” Columbia protesters chanted on campus grounds after Oct. 7, violating the school’s code of conduct but never facing consequences for doing so, the complaint alleges. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

The protesters later reinforced their rhetoric with violence, the complaint adds. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another allegedly attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen. Following the incidents, pleas for help went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held its demonstrations.

The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were purportedly forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events while no one explained the inconsistency.

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, who took office in July 2023, recently attempted to assuage concerns that Columbia has become a sanctuary for antisemites after it was revealed that five high-level administrators participated in a group-chat in which ideas that “disturbingly touched on ancient antisemitic tropes” were exchanged. She fired none of the administrators, however, which has led to calls for her to resign from office.

“We will launch a vigorous program of antisemitism and antidiscrimination [sic] training for faculty and staff this fall, with related training for students under the auspices of university life,” Shafik said in statement. “Columbia’s leadership team recognizes this as an important moment to implement changes that will build a stronger institution as a result. I know that you all share this commitment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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